Table Mountain National Park’s (TMNP) Afromontane forest vegetation in the Tokai Forest, made up of an intricate mix of plants, has created some of the rarest pockets of plants in the world.
From fynbos to wit steekbos, the sheer number of indigenous plants is something to boast about.
Although an intimidating pine forest clearing lies ahead for Working for Water teams, clearing invasive plant species is working. Brown patches on the mountains are areas cleared of any alien plants. Photo: Nica Richards
But this unique vegetation is at risk of being taken over by equally diverse alien vegetation, which tends to thrive in areas near water.
This is why the Tokai Forest, as well as Silvermine, are hotspot areas for alien vegetation growth.
These plants provide kindling for reoccurring fires on the mountains of the Cape Peninsula, and consume much-needed water, depriving South Africa’s plants from growing.
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A number of initiatives are in place to curb a threat to the ecological corridor frequented by animals, through South African National Parks (SANParks) projects.
An organic herbicide and gear used by teams clearing alien vegetation. Photo: Nica Richards
The projects also significantly uplift local, impoverished communities, by providing training, upscaling, and opportunities.
A win-win for the TMNP and communities alike, finally, indigenous vegetation has a fighting chance to thrive, despite constant hurdles brought on by their alien counterparts.
Thys Arens, from TMNP biodiversity social projects, explained that there are 356 workers employed in the park, divided into 26 teams of around 10 people.
Teams systematically work through tens of thousands of hectares of vegetation, scaling mountain faces and working in the blistering heat.
A stack of freshly cut port Jackson invasive plants. Photo: Nica Richards
So far, more than 900 hectares worth of invasive plants have been removed by these teams, with the goal to clear TMNP completely of its alien plants.
Clearing five hectares takes around two months.
Working on Water teams clear invasive plants in Tokai. Photo: Nica Richards.
There are projects currently taking place in Silvermine, Redhill, Hout Bay and Chapman’s Peak, in addition to the Tokai Forest.
Teams do not simply cut vegetation and move on. Certain plant species require immediate intervention, in the form of sustainable poison, as well as follow-up visits.
Armin Cullis, a Working for Water team member. Photo: Nica Richards
Plants and trees likely to resprout are also monitored for between six months and two years.
Community members have opportunities to upskill themselves by getting involved in SANParks’ Working on Water, Working on Fire, Working on Wetlands and Working on the Environment.
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Employment not only puts food on the table, it also means the value of national parks are realised by more people than just regular visitors.
Once such success story is that of Colin Leguma, a Working on Environment contractor living in Ocean View who started out as a driver for a contractor involved in TMNP’s initiative.
Colin Leguma explains his journey with SANParks, from a driver to a successful contractor. Photo: Nica Richards
Leguma’s day starts early, having to mix herbicide into monstrous cans, to kill of the day’s alien plants.
Invasive species include pine trees, black wattles, backwoods and bluegums, as well as port Jackson plants.
He is now a contractor, and a much respected member of the SANParks team, attesting to the fact that SANParks do their bit in uplifting even the most destitute members of society.
A community member sprays blue sustainable poison on invasive plants. Photo: Nica Richards
Working to clear alien vegetation is slow going and hard work, requiring persistence, patience and passion.
While battling snakes, bugs and mountainous terrain, SANParks’ initiative has turned ordinary folk into heroes of the indigenous plant world of South Africa.
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